Fourth in the 2004 World Indoor Championships over 1500m and with a PB of 3:37.06, James Thie is now one of the UK’s leading coaches
I coach more than 20 athletes, many of whom have won Welsh or BUCS medals and represented Scotland, England or Wales. My squad includes Paralympian Stephen Morris, 2014 Commonwealth Games athletes Dave Bishop and Adam Bitchell, 73:19 half-marathon runner Charlotte Arter, 2016 Welsh 5km champion Ieuan Thomas, Tom and Kat Marshall and 2015 World 50km eighth-place finisher Mike Kallenberg. That’s just to name a few.
I work with a lot of other good people who all chip into the coaching. As I’m the performance director for athletics and a lecturer in sports development at Cardiff Met University I have a lot of good contacts.
Our training bases vary. We often train at the NIAC at the university, but training sessions take place all over Cardiff. The squad contains a core group of alumni and athletes living in Cardiff who are there all year round and then students dip in and out when they are at university. With so many students in my squad, it is about frequent dialogue and ensuring a balance between home life and university.
I started coaching in 2008. The 2013 British Indoor 3000m champion, Dave Bishop, approached me and asked me to coach him and it all went from there really. Our current success can be linked to the athletes all wanting to be part of the group. Therefore, they have the belief in me, which is what matters.
I feel I was a guinea pig for my own coaching philosophy. I was lucky to have great coaches in Tom Watson and later Mark Rowland and that gave me a good grounding. However, from 2002 I was self-coached for a number of years and enjoyed putting it together myself. I feel what I learned gives me a unique perspective to coaching.
I really care about my athletes. My coaching philosophy is quite simple and based on enjoyment in a large group atmosphere. I think often coaches and athletes over-complicate things. I just try to make them faster and ensure they are enjoying it. We have a low rate of injury in the group and my athletes often stay in the sport longer as a result.
I try to create happy athletes. The group environment means that athletes gain confidence from seeing what each other achieves. They learn from that.
A lot of UK coaches are too overprotective of their athletes and want to hang on to them at all costs. I always put my athletes first and I encourage my athletes to go and do a masters in the US. They improve their running and come back and slot into the group so everyone benefits. I think more coaches should encourage their athletes to give it a go in the USA.
Change of pace and good mechanics are two attributes that mark out a top athlete. I remember seeing Tom Marshall in a training session and there was just something about his mechanics and the way he ran. He had no coach. I asked him what his targets were and he did not know. I saw he had a bit of talent and he asked me to give him a target and a training plan. He has been Welsh 1500m champion the past three years and has run 3:39.
Coaching is all about constantly learning on the job. Yes, coaching qualifications are important, but I’m always learning by reading, speaking to people and through my athletes.
We need more people to give back to the sport. People often complain about there not being enough coaches, but usually people are not willing to give up their time and get involved. We need more coaches.
TYPICAL TRAINING SESSIONS FOR JAMES THIE’S SQUAD
We have a great number of venues for our winter hills, one of these is at Castle Coch.
The session is 8-5 x 75sec continuous hills reps with 1:45min run-down recovery. This means every rep is off a 3-minute cycle, which allows the group to start every rep together. The surface is trail and in the middle of a forest, so a nice escape from the roads of the week day.
One of our summer sessions is 10x300m off 45sec recovery. This is at 1500m pace, but allows some of our 800m runners to go 5x300m off 2:15min recovery.
This session in championship season can also be adapted to one controlled rep and one fast to help develop a change of pace.
» The above sessions are athlete-specific and may not be suitable for other athletes